The Evolution of a Course
By Mika Ono
What's new at the interface between chemistry and biology?
Quite a lot, and this is reflected by a new course offered
by The Scripps Research Institute's (TSRI) Kellogg School
of Science and Technology. For the first time this spring,
graduate students and postdocs have had the opportunity to
attend a course entitled Chemical and Biological Principles
"The new class, a cross-divisional feature of the curriculum,
is really driven by the exciting science at TSRI," says Associate
Professor M.G. Finn, who came up with the idea for the course.
"The field is being born here more than anywhere else in the
world. I figured if we didn't offer it, we'd kick ourselves."
The course focuses on the molecular mechanisms of biological
evolution and how these mechanisms are being used by scientists.
Participants study the concepts and techniques in the budding
field that addresses the creation of chemical and biological
function in the laboratory. Assigned reading consists primarily
of articles published within scientific journals, such as
Cell, Nature Structural Biology, and Trends in Biological
Science, within the last three years.
Floyd Romesberg, assistant professor in the Department of
Chemistry, and Valerie de Crécy-Lagard, assistant professor
in the Department of Molecular Biology, helped Finn make the
course a reality.
"The class integrates the chemical and biological perspective,"
notes Romesberg. "The questions addressed in the class have
been orphaned in the middle of the two fields. The chemists
aren't taught genetics and the geneticists aren't taught chemistry.
In contrast, the class approaches genetics from a mechanistic
perspective based on DNA replication/mutation and covers topics
in the middle of chemistry and biology."
De Crécy-Lagard adds, "There was a need for a unifying
course on the topic. I've helped a lot of students individually
in the field over the last few years."
Some two dozen peoplegraduate students and postdoctoral
fellows from over a dozen different TSRI labs in both biology
and chemistryare attending the course.
Eleven speakers from institutions including TSRI, Caltech,
San Diego State University, Maxygen, Inc., and Baylor College
of Medicine are addressing topics including: "Adaptive Mutation:
Recombination in Cancer Biology," "Ligand Discovery with Natural
and Unnatural mRNA Display Libraries," "In Vitro Evolution,"
"Phage and Ribosome Display," and "Evolution in Chemical Systems:
"Our approach was to have the experts teach the subject
matter," says Romesberg. "We aren't watering the science down."
While inviting the speakers and pulling together a syllabus
took some leg work, Finn notes that there were few other barriers
to getting the course off the ground. "That's the great part
about being at TSRI," he says. "There are no administrative
So far the class's turnout has been goodsome lectures
have even drawn a crowdand feedback has been positive.
"This has been a very, very good class," comments Tracey
Jackson, a first-year graduate student in the Joyce lab. "They
should teach it again next year!"
TSRI investigators M.G. Finn (left),
Valerie de Crécy-Lagard (right), and Floyd Romesberg
(not pictured) are teaching a new cross-divisional class,
the Chemical and Biological Principles of Evolution. Photo
by Kevin Fung.